A coalition of 20 Senators announced on Sunday, June 12, that they have struck a bipartisan agreement on a gun safety framework, marking a breakthrough in Congress’s attempts to address soaring gun violence in the wake of the back-to-back mass shootings of Buffalo and Uvalde.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 267 mass shootings in 2022 as of June 13.
Key measures would include enhanced background checks on prospective gun owners under the age of 21, a federal law against gun trafficking, and the expansion of a prohibition against domestic abusers owning guns so as to include dating partners as well as spouses.
The negotiations that led to the deal, which was brought forth by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, focused on compromise in view of obtaining sufficient support for the plan to pass through evenly the divided chambers of Congress.
This, however, means the plan agreed upon contains toned-down reforms compared to the sweeping changes championed by Democrats and gun control activists amid soaring rates of gun violence and hate crimes.
Last Wednesday, June 8, after hearing the harrowing testimonies from victims of the school shooting in Uvalde, the House of Representatives pushed through a sprawling gun control package which endorsed, among other things, to ban the sale of semiautomatic weapons to people under the age of 21 and ban the sale of large-capacity magazines.
Though the bill passed 223 to 204, gun control campaigners knew it did not stand a chance to draw the 60 votes necessary to break through the inevitable Republican filibuster in the evenly divided Senate.
With the backing of 10 Republican senators, the gun safety framework brought forth on Sunday may stand a better chance at breaking through a G.O.P filibuster and coming up for a vote on the Senate floor.
The coalition was led by Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.
“Today, we are announcing a common-sense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe and reduce the threat of violence across our country,” they said in a joint statement. “Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities.”
While acknowledging that the proposal “does not do everything” he thinks is needed to restrain gun violence, President Biden thanked members of the coalition for their work, celebrating “important steps in the right direction.”
“With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay,” he added.
I want to thank Senator Chris Murphy and the bipartisan group for their gun safety proposal. It does not do everything that I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction.
With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay. Let’s get this done.
— President Biden (@POTUS) June 12, 2022
What measures does the proposal include?
Though key details of the outline are still being hashed out among Senators, the gun safety framework includes enhanced background checks for prospective buyers under 21, which holds up the acquisition of the firearm until the check by law enforcement is complete.
The framework also means to introduce a major provision which would close what is known as the “boyfriend loophole,” a legislative loophole by which only married partners with a history of domestic violence could be banned from buying guns. An abusive partner who was not married to his victim could still own firearms. The proposal hence seeks to extend the prohibition against domestic abusers owning guns to include dating partners as well as spouses.
In at least 53% of mass shootings between 2009 and 2020, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member during the rampage (for a reminder, a mass shooting refers to an attack by firearm resulting in 4 or more people killed or injured, including the shooter).
The connection between domestic violence, as well as misogyny in general, and mass gun violence resurfaced after investigators found out the Uvalde gunman shot his grandmother before running from the house. He also frequently threatened teen girls online with kidnapping, rape, and murder. The girls’ reports on social media were largely ignored, as all forms of online harassment against women and girls routinely are.
If the proposal goes through, it would prohibit people from owning guns if they have been convicted of domestic violence against an intimate partner or if a domestic violence restraining order has been filed against them.
Additionally, the proposal would unlock funding for states to implement so-called red-flag laws, which empower law enforcement to confiscate guns from people displaying signs of violent and harmful behaviour toward others or themselves.
It would also issue the first-ever federal law against gun trafficking and straw purchasing – which refers to a person buying a gun for another person who is not allowed to own a firearm. Research on gun violence led by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit campaigning for enhanced gun control, found that 1 in 3 mass shootings involved a shooter that was legally prohibited from possessing firearms at the time of the shooting.
The plan includes clarifications of the laws regulating gun dealing businesses to ensure that all licensed gun sellers conduct the right background checks.
Finally, billions of dollars would be provided in new funding for mental health facilities and school safety. The last component draws criticism from Democrats like Jake Auchincloss, who think it “grants credence to the GOP’s deranged focus on turning schools into fortresses.”
This deal can save lives, but it grants credence to the GOP's deranged focus on turning schools into fortresses. With tremendous frustration, I will vote yes if this makes it back to the House, and then I’ll continue to fight to get weapons of war off our streets. https://t.co/l4yPufa21m
— Rep. Jake Auchincloss (@RepAuchincloss) June 12, 2022
It also endorses the popular opinion among Republicans that the cause of American gun violence is first rooted in mental health issues and lack of access to mental health facilities – as opposed to an act of domestic terrorism fuelled by hatred against one or several marginalized groups.
The agreement announced Sunday coincided with the sixth anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, which occurred at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, where a gunman killed 49 people. Since 2013, nearly two-thirds of fatal violence toward transgender and gender-nonconforming people involved a gun. Most victims are Black women under the age of 30.
“With all the collective trauma that we’ve experienced as a country with Covid and consistent violence on communities, I think we should really restrict access to powerful weapons of war,” said Ricardo Negron, a voting rights advocate who survived the Orlando attack.
“[It’s] time to make a decision and to choose something,” said Patience Murray, an activist who was also present at the Pulse nightclub. “We’re no longer just looking for the headlines of what we think could happen. We actually want to see real decisions being made.”
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What happens next?
The bipartisan proposal yet has to draw at least 60 votes for each of its components before moving forward to an up-or-down vote in Senate. Senators are still bargaining over key details, including how much time authorities would have to conduct a background check on a juvenile buyer.
The leaders of the coalition voiced their optimism about the future of their joint proposal. Mr Murphy said he was hopeful many more Republicans would wind up supporting the bill, while Republican Senator John Cornyn stated in a tweet: “I worked closely with my colleagues to find an agreement to protect our communities from violence while also protecting law-abiding Texans’ right to bear arms.”
The tragedies in Uvalde and elsewhere cried out for action.
I worked closely with my colleagues to find an agreement to protect our communities from violence while also protecting law-abiding Texans’ right to bear arms.
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) June 12, 2022
But firm Republican opposition remains an obstacle with the power to strike down the proposal. The fact that none of the 10 Republicans who endorsed Sunday’s agreement was facing voters this year is an indicator of the political risks Republicans see in upholding even moderate gun safety reforms.
The group of 10 included 4 Republican senators who are leaving Congress at the end of the year. Five others are not up for re-election for another four years, and the last Senator will face voters in 2024. A GOP aide involved in the negotiations also stressed that Sunday’s agreement was an “agreement on principles, not legislative texts.”
The aide added the proposal could undergo further revisions, some of which could end up weakening one or several of its measures: “The details will be critical for Republicans, particularly the firearms-related provisions,” she said. “One or more of these principles could be dropped if the text is not agreed to.”
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, pledged to put the proposal up for a vote as soon as the legislation is completed, adding that “we must move swiftly… because if a single life can be saved, it is worth the effort.”
If the proposal manages to gain the 60 necessary votes on the Senate floor, it will move on to the House of Representatives and come up for another vote. Democratic members of the House, who passed a sweeping but doomed gun safety package last Wednesday, reluctantly agreed to back the proposal if it passes in Senate.
If the bill goes through both Congress chambers, it would be the first meaningful law to be passed on gun safety and control in decades. But for many campaigners, survivors, and relatives of victims who died in mass shootings, so much more needs to be done. Leonard Sandoval, the grandfather of 10-year-old Xavier Lopez who died at Robb Elementary School last month, said only a ban on semiautomatic weapons would amount to a meaningful endorsement of gun safety and control.
“Those weapons are for soldiers, not for someone to use on us,” he said. “They need to ban those first. These are the weapons they have used in many of these shootings. People don’t need to have access to them. They are for wars.”
Moreover, as the connection between violent discrimination and firearm attacks becomes more evident and better documented, campaigners call for Republicans to cease deflecting responsibility onto strawman issues and start looking into the culture of racism, homophobia, and misogyny, online and offline, which has proven to fuel the proliferation of mass gun violence.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: The U.S Capitol Building in Washington, D.C, in August 2021. Featured Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.